FOOD. It's a simple word, but these four letters quite literally mean the world to us. Everywhere you look, food (or the absence of it) is a defining feature of society. Food fuels us, sells products, titillates and amuses, provides social cohesion, stimulates endless foodie conversations and raises the 'celebrity chef' to an almost god-like status. A lack of food fuels hunger, poverty and even war.
But it's not just a case of the 'have' and the 'have-nots'. Where our food comes from matters hugely too. For those who 'have' food - what food do we actually 'have'? The recent European horse-meat saga highlights that we are increasingly disconnected from our food, and the stark reality is that much of what we call food isn't as palatable as we might believe.
There is no starker example of the field-to-fork disconnect than factory farming - the application of industrial principles to the rearing of living, breathing, feeling beings. Intensive livestock production crams animals together to produce as much product as possible. Around two-thirds of our farm animals are reared in these systems - nearly 50 billion animals worldwide currently.
It is often said that factory farming is needed to feed the world. Proponents of the model seek to position the industry as efficient and profitable - the cleantech model for the food industry if you like. Indeed, the term 'factory' is seen as progressive in many cultures. But the reality isn't so progressive - it's an outdated 20th century model, based on outdated science.
Just under a billion people are malnourished globally, and factory farming won't turn this around. The truth is that factory farming wastes food rather than creates it. Confined animals can't graze - instead they eat vast amounts of grain that humans could eat. It is said that we feed 60% of cereals in the EU to our farm animals, which is wasted on them because they are relatively inefficient converters of energy and protein.
A recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme calculated that grain-fed livestock waste 83% of the calories that they consume. Indeed the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO) has stated that in intensive systems '...livestock can be said to reduce the food balance', cutting the amount of food available for people.
And it's not just about wasting grain. Last month, I completed a year-long journey exploring the devastation caused by factory farming. I met people across four different continents, and their stories were eerily similar - lands grabbed for animal feed, trashed environments, polluted groundwater, loss of employment, intimidation, and so on.
We need to move away from factory farming and its damaging effects. Small-scale farming is vital to poverty alleviation. According to the UNFAO, traditional livestock systems '...are the major source of livelihood for 200 million rural families, and provide food and income for some 70% of the world's rural poor'.
This is exactly why we developed our flagship campaign, Raw. Raw represents the broad approach that we are taking to expose the 'raw truth' of factory farming, lifting the lid on the industry to reveal the realities of our food production.
We must make no mistake - factory farming poses a significant threat to us and our planet. But this threat presents an unparalleled opportunity too - a chance to tackle myriad social and environment problems in one go.
And we believe it can be done. Put simply, we need some food sense. We need a common sense approach to feeding the world, which ends the competition for food between people and farm animals, placing greater emphasis on supporting smaller-scale farming.
But our food crisis is too big for anyone to fix alone, so we're collaborating with other organisations and individuals to create a food system fit for the 21st century. One of our most important partnerships is with the Enough Food IF campaign. We joined IF because you can't eradicate poverty without championing small-scale farming and tackling the problem's root causes, such as factory farming.
Over the next few days, we're taking over the IF social media channels - we're going to start telling the story of why ending factory farming is so important for every single person on Earth. I look forward to the conversation.
Find out more about the importance of the F word and the raw truth of factory farming at www.raw.info/if.
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